The Keg Liquors Fest of Ale, now in its 13th year, has come a long way since its inception in the parking lot of the Keg Liquors in Clarksville, Ind.
This year’s edition happens Saturday, June 2, at the New Albany Riverfront Amphitheater from 3-7 p.m. While the number of vendors has increased over the years and the size of the space has increased with it, so has the scope of pulling off the event.
“I think every year, I take two years off my life and my hairline recedes a little more,” says founder Todd Antz, who owns the Keg Liquors.
Antz had moved back to the area after having lived in Phoenix and being downsized. He decided to shift his focus from a career in sales and marketing to the family business, then owned by his father. When he took over the liquor store, he realized there wasn’t much in the way of beer festivals happening in Louisville, save for the annual Brew at the Zoo.
He decided to give it a shot: “I said, ‘Nobody’s doing this — this will be a good way to promote the store, but also to promote craft beer. There’s an audience here and it’s underserved.’”
The first year was not successful, he believes, because it took place on the Saturday between Thunder and Derby. But it soon caught on and moved to a larger space at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Clarksville, where it stayed for a decade.
“I loved that spot and we just outgrew it,” Antz says. “St. Anthony’s was always so good to us, they were fantastic to work with. But when the neighbors started to complain about the parking, I said, ‘It’s time.’ ”
Fest of Ale utilizes about half the ample space at the New Albany Amphitheater. The festival continues to grow each year, adding new vendors to familiar ones, with a highlight this year being the local debut of Maine Brewing Co., which is well-known for its pale ales and IPAs, among more than 100 vendors and roughly 250 beers.
The inaugural Fest of Ale featured 15 beer vendors.
The festival has grown to include ciders and wine, as well, plus a blend of American craft breweries and imported beers. But it hasn’t exploded — simply grown organically.
“I’ve always been about growing the event slowly,” Antz says. “You’re not looking at long lines. My thing has always been to be able to go to the event and actually have time to talk to the people pouring.”
Unlike in Kentucky, due to state beer laws, breweries can staff their own booth at Indiana beer festivals, so 75 percent of those pouring at Fest of Ale are representatives of the brewery, not volunteers. So chances are if you have a question about the brewery or a specific beer, you’ll have a good chance to get it answered.
Antz says Fest of Ale is based on his couple of visits to the Great Taste of the Midwest in Wisconsin.
“It was so well-run and so well-organized that it became the model for what I wanted to do and continue to do,” he says.
A couple of old friends will return this year in the form of the Sour Shack — focusing on sour beers, obviously — and the House of Hops, for all the hop-loving beer enthusiasts who attend.
“We retired the House of Hops one year and had so much demand for it that we had to bring it back,” Antz says.
New this year is a dunking booth, which will raise money for the festival’s charity, the Crusade for Children — last year, Fest of Ale raised more than $16,000 for the Crusade. In addition, Firestone Walker Brewing Company will make its debut, and Lexington Brewing/Alltech and Sun King will be vendors.
Also of note, there will be a Founders KBS tapping at 5 p.m., while New Albany’s Donum Dei Brewery will do a special tapping at 4 p.m. Food will be available from various food trucks, the annual charity raffle returns, and an after-party will be held at Gospel Bird the night of the event.
Tickets are $40 in advance if purchased at one of the two Keg Liquors locations, or $45 in advance if purchased online. If available, tickets will be $55 the day of event. Designated drivers are admitted free.
The New Albany Riverfront Amphitheater is located below East Main Street at the foot of Pearl Street.